Dog and cat meat trade in the time of the COVID-19 epidemic in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

FOUR PAWS Reveals Dog and Cat Meat Trade Adapts Amidst Global Pandemic 

While China bans dog and cat meat, trade in Southeast Asia is thriving 


BOSTON - APRIL 2, 2020 – In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, FOUR PAWS has sought to further investigate and monitor the dog and cat meat trade in Asia. While the Chinese city of Shenzhen has banned the eating of dogs and cats as part of a wider clampdown on the wildlife trade, in neighboring Vietnam, Cambodia and Indonesia, dog and cat meat consumption is on the rise.

FOUR PAWS has documented the continued sale of dog and cat meat in the region despite the global pandemic. Investigations have found the disturbing trend of restaurants transitioning from a ‘dine-in’ to a ‘to-go’ service with the advertisement of dog and cat meat dishes on a smartphone food delivery app.

Many customers have also cited the perceived health benefits of the meat as their reason for consumption. However, FOUR PAWS warns of its serious human health risk; the uncontrolled spread of rabies being only one of them. In addition, the animals are often sold at live animal markets across Southeast Asia; the place of origin of the novel coronavirus.

The World Health Organization (WHO) states that 70 percent of global disease-causing pathogens discovered in the past 50 years came from animals, and COVID-19 is no different. Despite the public health risks, many dog and cat meat restaurant owners report that business has increased during the pandemic.

One seller in Cambodia told FOUR PAWS that those in her community believe that, ‘dog meat is good for health and helps ward off cold or viral illness, like COVID-19’. Others prefer to eat dog meat because it is perceived to be ‘natural, without chemicals, and safe to eat’. The reality, however, is that dog meat is far from safe, and is linked to outbreaks of cholera, and cases of trichinella and rabies.

With more than 110 dog meat restaurants around Cambodia’s capital city of Phnom Penh, many opening less than two years ago, the service model has adapted to the current social and economic situation posed by the COVID-19 outbreak by transitioning their business model from serving customers inside restaurants to providing take-away service.

Vendors in Cambodia are seen wearing masks standing on the side of the road, providing bags of dog meat to customers to eat or prepare in the home. In Vietnam, a similar trend has been observed particularly in the north of the country, where dog and cat meat consumption has a longstanding history. But the newest development allowing dog meat restaurants to adapt to the current COVID-19 situation includes the use of delivery apps such as – one of Vietnam's most popular delivery services founded by restaurant review platform Foody. Dog and cat meat restaurants across the country are advertising dog and cat meat dishes for delivery on the Foody website and app.

Dr. Katherine Polak, veterinarian and former head of FOUR PAWS Stray Animal Care in Southeast Asia, explained, “The unsanitary conditions associated with the cat and dog meat trade, coupled with the contamination risks of having so many different animal species caged and killed alongside one another, present the perfect breeding ground for new and deadly diseases, like COVID-19. The rampant trade and live animal markets across Southeast Asia are ticking time bombs. If governments do not act now and shut down these cruel markets, the next global pandemic might originate in Vietnam, Cambodia or Indonesia.”

FOUR PAWS has estimated ten million dogs and cats are brutally slaughtered for consumption in just Vietnam, Cambodia and Indonesia every year. Yet In order to put a sustainable end to the brutal dog and cat meat trade in Southeast Asia, FOUR PAWS, with an office in Vietnam, has launched a campaign on international and national levels in these target countries. Through educational work and cooperation with the responsible authorities and tourism associations, the goal is to get governments in Southeast Asia to introduce animal protection laws which bring an end to the capture, slaughter and consumption of dogs and cats.

FOUR PAWS has published a petition against the dog and cat meat trade, which has already been signed by over 640,000 supporters worldwide since it launched late last year.

Furthermore, FOUR PAWS supports local animal welfare organizations and communities with humane and sustainable stray animal care programs. FOUR PAWS is also part of the animal welfare coalitions DMFI (Dog Meat Free Indonesia) and ACPA (Asia Canine Protection Alliance), which lobby against the trade in Southeast Asia.

The Boston-based office of FOUR PAWS has recently transported rescued dogs from the Cambodian dog meat trade to New England where they have all been adopted into loving homes. Once the pandemic subsides, the U.S. office plans for another transport of dogs rescued from a slaughterhouse who are currently being safely housed at a shelter partner in Cambodia.

“In personally seeing these dogs develop into the loyal pets we know and love, I know our work is far from over: There are millions more like them. Although our dog transports have temporarily halted due to the pandemic, we will not stop fighting and adapting, just as we see the trade doing,” 

- Danika Oriol-Morway, Country Director of FOUR PAWS USA. 

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FOUR PAWS is the global animal welfare organization for animals under direct human influence, which reveals suffering, rescues animals in need, and protects them. Founded in 1988 in Vienna by Heli Dungler and friends, the organization advocates for a world where humans treat animals with respect, empathy, and understanding. FOUR PAWS’ sustainable campaigns and projects focus on companion animals including stray dogs and cats, farm animals and wild animals – such as bears, big cats, and orangutans – kept in inappropriate conditions as well as in disaster and conflict zones. With offices in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Kosovo, the Netherlands, Switzerland, South Africa, Thailand, Ukraine, the UK, the USA and Vietnam, as well as sanctuaries for rescued animals in eleven countries, FOUR PAWS provides rapid help and long-term solutions. 

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